There’s more Megxit than Brexit in the news this weekend – which is surely rather a good sign. When the papers can get back to the vital business of royal spats, it means that Brexit and Covid news is starting to settle down. Here’s hoping it won’t be all that long until the people of the UK are free to visit the park with their friends for a good old gossip about whatever non-news Meghan and Harry decide to tell Oprah.
Across the EU, by contrast, vaccinations continue at a snail’s pace. France’s Emmanuel Macron continues his Trumpian vendetta against the mounting scientific evidence that Britain’s decision to prioritise first doses was the right call, while Germany – once lauded for its swift and effective establishment of a track and trace system – has been struggling with a painfully inefficient roll-out. While European national governments are not covering themselves in glory, it is clear that many of the problems are rooted in the European Commission’s insistence on centralised procurement, a fact which is all too obvious EU citizens. The German journalist Peter Tiede’s recent article in The Times offers a particularly grim assessment of the EU catastrophe, which is well worth a read for any subscribers who missed it:
“Von der Leyen started a dispute with the vaccine supplier Astrazeneca, which was supposed to look daredevilish but was just dumb. She has disgraced Europe… Worse still, [she] has either knowingly lied to 447 million Europeans or didn’t know what she was talking about. Both are intolerable. The EU’s contract with Astrazeneca reveals that the commission negotiated badly and did not secure any binding rights. It did not do what it is supposed to do: take care of our Europe. And our 27 governments either did not intervene or intervened too late.”
Another article worth reading this week is Ambrose Evans-Pritchard’s, demolition of the myth that the British economy suffered a larger contraction than the Eurozone last year, published in The Telegraph this week. In fact, the UK outperformed the Eurozone in terms of nominal GDP. Furthermore, the UK’s highly effective vaccination rollout means we are able to look forward to a sharp period of economic recovery in the near future. Full vaccination is a far more distant prospect in the EU.
Meanwhile, trade talks with New Zealand are progressing rapidly. This week’s Department of International Trade update uses the following language. “Good progress, constructive relationship, pragmatic discussions identifying areas of convergence, high levels of alignment and commonality of objectives, rapid progress on areas of shared ambition, both the UK and NZ remain eager to maintain the momentum of discussions”. Contrast this this with anything to do with trade negotiations with the EU despite the latter depending much more heavily than NZ on access to UK markets.
This week BfB co-editors Graham Gudgin and Robert Tombs had three letters published in the Times and Financial Times. The letters address the questions of academic freedom of speech and the UK’s wide regional economic disparities. You can read the letters in full here.
Graham has also published an article on the Queen’s University Belfast website, offering evidence that living standards are 20% higher in Northern Ireland than the Republic. Its findings have been reported this week by Irish News.
On the website this week
The Northern Ireland protocol must be radically altered, by Harry Western
The Northern Ireland Protocol makes no economic sense. Its key rationale is to prevent trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the Republic, but cross-border trade flows are very low and the notion that these could distort the EU internal market is fanciful.
“The Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP) has been in operation for just six weeks but is already causing serious problems, with growing calls in Northern Ireland (NI) and other parts of the UK for it to be scrapped.”
The City must learn from Amsterdam and break free from the EU, by Catherine McBride
The EU’s attitude to the City of London makes a mockery of EU claims about level playing fields and seems to breach WTO Most Favoured Nation rules. Amsterdam’s gain of business – though fairly minor – is a sign of the times, and a signal to look further afield. If the EU is set on hostility, we should drop its constraints and unleash innovation.
“The UK shouldn’t be frightened of real competition. In other parts of the world there are competing financial service centres –Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo and Sydney are all in similar time zones and still survive.”
Key points this week
Working to Rule at the Borders
Although hauliers are beginning to adapt to customs changes, well-publicised problems remain with the movement of fresh goods. Customs officials in some EU member states are proving highly inflexible in the enforcement of border paperwork. Famously epitomised in the ‘welcome to Brexit’ sandwich incident, British and EU hauliers alike report that relatively minor errors result in the rerouting and return of whole consignments.
This enforcement, needless to say, is not simply the straightforward implementation of ‘the rules’. For one thing, the insistence on paper forms in the digital age is simply an anachronism. Blockchain and other technologies are already revolutionising consignments and bringing about efficiencies in the world of shipping.
For another, discretion exists in almost any customs system. Not to exercise it is therefore a choice, not an inevitability. Indeed, the only way to make the current Northern Irish Protocol work without inflaming the province’s tensions will essentially require the EU to look the other way against the overly-rigid enforcement of phytosanitary and other checks.
Difficulties on the Channel border, however, are unlikely to be alleviated unless Britain is more assertive in checking EU goods itself. The decision to suspend checks until June, while avoiding shortages in supermarkets, means that the UK has little leverage against this legalistic, ‘paper border’ zeal on the part of European customs agents. With the threat of difficulties for their own exporters, however, European governments may be more inclined to rein in their officials’ excesses.
Key Points is compiled by a Cambridge PhD student.
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How you can help
There is much about Brexit still to be decided. Our MPs listen to their constituents. Do continue to send them links to our articles, especially on matters relevant to your constituency – for example, in rural areas, articles on the threat to British agriculture. Alternatively, make an appointment to speak to them at their next surgery. Let them know what you want post-Brexit Britain to look like.
As Boris Johnson said in in his post-election address, it is also time for unity and reconciliation. Keep reading our posts and share links to our quality content to help others understand how leaving the EU will be good for the UK economy and for our own democratic governance. We aim to educate our critics to think differently and more positively about the long-term impact of Brexit.
An Oxbridge PhD Student
Dr Graham Gudgin
Economist, Centre for Business Research, Judge Business School University of Cambridge
Professor Robert Tombs
Emeritus Professor of French History, University of Cambridge